For more than a month, Deshaun Watson and the Texans have awkwardly coexisted. Watson attends meetings, but he barely practices. One of the best players in the entire NFL, he continues to be the fourth-string quarterback on the Houston roster.
Nothing has happened to change that. By Tuesday, something likely will.
As the Texans reduce the roster from 80 players to 53, they’ll have to decide what to do with Watson. Here are the options.
1. Tell him it’s time to play.
They gave him a gigantic contract only 51 weeks ago. Yes, he has decided he doesn’t want to be a Texan since then. That doesn’t change the fact that the Texans can tell him that it’s time to earn that money, whether it be the $5.4 million in signing bonus money applicable to 2021 or the $10.54 million salary he’ll be paid this year. Apparently, even the inherently dysfunctional Texans realize that nothing good will come from playing hardball with Watson, if he truly doesn’t want to play.
2. Move him to injured reserve.
The Texans had seemed to be setting up a potential shift of Watson to short-term injured reserve (David Culley complicated that approach recently by declaring that Watson isn’t injured). It’s an option available for players who make it to the 53-man roster. So the Texans would keep Watson on the roster through Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. They could then move him to IR, and then they could fill his spot with someone else. Under the 2021 IR rules, he could return to the active roster of the Texans (or potentially of another team) after three weeks.
3. Carry him on the 53-man roster.
The Texans could give Watson a roster spot and simply park him there with pay. But that would, as a practical matter, give the Texans a 52-man team.
4. Trade him.
No team will give the Texans their preferred return of three first-round picks and more, given the 22 pending civil lawsuits and, more importantly, 10 criminal complaints that could become an indictment, a prosecution, and potentially a conviction. If the Texans were to drop their price — or if (as we’ve suggested) cobble together a package of conditional picks tied to playing time in 2021, 2022, and possibly 2023 — maybe a deal could still be done.
Although G.M. Nick Caserio now runs the show in Houston (subject to whatever influence Jack Easterby has behind the scenes), this is an ownership-level call. Do the Texans want to pay Watson $10 million to not play this year? Do they prefer to continue to keep him on the team as the various legal proceedings play out? Is Cal McNair, as influenced by Easterby, morally and/or religiously opposed to employing Watson, given the allegations against him and the admission that, indeed, his habit of procuring massages from a wide array of therapists did at times include consensual sexual activities?
It’s unclear who would trade for him now, if the Texans decide to drop the three-first-rounders-and-more facade. The teams most commonly linked to Watson were the Eagles, Panthers, Broncos, and Dolphins. At this point, a deal would turn a depth chart on its head, sending shock waves through his new team and beyond. And if he’d land with a team other than one of those four, the move would drop jaws in every NFL city — particularly in Watson’s new one.
Whatever happens, something will finally happen on Tuesday. If not sooner.